Two Steps to Working with your Dog, or Why You Need More RuPaul

“The ego urges you to accomplish, while the soul merely asks you to enjoy the process.”

— Doreen Virtue
Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham
Photography – By Brittany Graham

I got pulled over by the police yesterday.  I was going X amount of mph in a x mph zone.  I never speed, either!  First time in 20 years (maybe more) that I’ve gotten a ticket. So what happened?

I didn’t follow my mandatory three steps for everything in the whole wide world.

 No, that wasn’t me; not my style.  However, I did ask the officer if I got bonus points for not ugly crying.

Step 1 – Control Yourself

I had a lot to do yesterday before my evening training session.  And to be honest, business has been booming.  It’s been difficult to keep up with everything sometimes.  I tried to squeeze in working on a blog post, straightening up my office, walking my dogs and returning phone calls all within the 2 hours between sessions.

I was like a cyclone of energy.  Meaning I was pretty keyed up by the time I had to leave.  I also meant that I didn’t keep track of time very well.

Now, if you know me, I’m am punctual.  To a fault. Typically I arrive 10 minutes early to each session (to everything, really), and kill time on a side street until it’s actually your appointment time.  So running late is not something that is normal for me.  But I hadn’t controlled myself, and had whipped myself up into a frenzy. So from the beginning, I was destined to fail.

Every now and then I fall apart.

Every now and then I fall apart.

Step 2 – Control the Situation

I never add energy or stimuli to a situation until I have control of the current situation.  So what happened?  When I suddenly realized that I was going to be 10 minutes late, rather than controlling the situation by calling my client and letter her know, I was going to make up the time.  Problem was, she was pretty far, actually outside my normal travel area.  So there we go; doomed to fail.  Which I did.


How does this apply to your dog?  Well, let’s start at the beginning.  Your dog does something you don’t like, say…barking, jumping, dragging you on a leash, etc.  For this instance, we’ll say the doorbell just rang.  That’s your dog’s cue.

Step 1 – Control Yourself

Fido goes nuts!  Barking, howling, jumping at the door.  It’s time for action.  But before you do anything, as yourself: are you angry?  Frantic? Yelling?  Then it’s not going to work.   Take a deep breath, organize yourself, and make sure you’ve got it together.  Remember, you can handle this.  Keep calm, and pull yourself together.

Don’t forget to watch your body language, too!  Put on your Piloting uniform.  Stand up as straight as you can.  I always tell my clients, pretend you rubbed Viagra all over your body.

Stand tall. Hand either beside you or behind your back.  Don’t feel the need to get down to your dog’s level; aim your belly button either at them or directly over them. I call this stance your Piloting  uniform. It’s the uniform you wear whenever you’re about to answer your dog’s questions, such as, “Can I bark at the door?” or “Can I jump all over our guest?”.  And do you know who wears this uniform best?

Drag queens.  Yes, you read that right.

Perfect body language, as usual, from RuPaul.  She  looks confident.  In control of herself.  She doesn’t look aggressive, but she looks as if she could handle just about any opposition without breaking a sweat. Is that what she (or any drag queen) looks like all the time?  Not necessarily, but it’s part of the job, so they put on their uniform. Their armor.  And they wear it proudly.

Step 2 – Control the Situation

Okay, you’ve released your inner drag queen.  You have your armor on, or your Piloting uniform, as I like to call it.  Now it’s time to control the situation.  Your dog is most likely misbehaving at the door already.  That’s fine.  You’re about to control that by claiming the door.  Simply walk up to the door, get between your dog and the door (stomach facing your dog still, RuPaul style) and back him off the door.  Pretend you’re a snowplow and gently, but firmly, use your legs to plow him back from the door like snow.

Now you’ve got a few feet to operate.  As soon as Fido is backed off the door, I want you to start backing up towards the door while pointing at him like your finger is a squirt gun and you’re going to shoot him between the eyes.  Nail him to that spot with your eyes and your finger as you move towards the door.

If he starts to move towards you, simply start over.  Snow plow him back, and then RuPaul him by pointing at him and nailing him to his spot with your finger and eyeballs.  Each time you are doing this, you are giving him a negative.  His question is, “Do you need help at the door?”.  This is how you give a dog a negative.  It may take a few times, but as you do it, you’re getting more and more money from his Piloting Piggy Bank into yours, and whoever has the most money wins.  Only once you have enough money in your Piloting Piggy Bank will you be able to s-l-o-w-l-y open the door (keeping your back to your door and your front towards your dog as much as possible).

Continue to control the situation.  If you lose control (your dog comes running up again), simply stop and reboot.  Close the door again even if you need to.  Your guest would rather wait outside a few more moments rather than be mauled and jumped on when they come in.

Once you let your guest in, you’re going to make a sandwich.  Your dog is bread, you’re guest is bread, and you’re the cheese.  Bread doesn’t touch bread.  You will be the cheese between them, answering your dog’s questions about your guest, even as they come through your house and sit down. Continue answering your dog’s questions using the same body language.

Congratulations, you’ve just answered your door without all the drama.  And the best part is, each time it gets easier and easier!

RuPaul would be proud.

Remember, these two steps are integral for any time you are Piloting your dog.  Dogs don’t require training in these circumstances, they require answers.  Think of dog training as tricks. Or something one dog wouldn’t teach another to do.  We train dogs to sit (teaching them English), to come on command (English again).  We may train them to go outside to go to the bathroom, or even to walk on a leash.  Those are commands we give them.  Piloting is when you are answering a dog’s questions: Can I jump on you?  Can I steal food from the counter?  Can I bark?

Usually I’m very good at Piloting myself, but like every other human, I’m not perfect.  Sometimes I flub things.  Hence my ticket.  But here’s the interesting thing:  I know that speeding is not acceptable.  However, I hadn’t controlled myself nor the situation. In other words, I didn’t Pilot myself.  A cop actually had to do that.  Piloting is simply giving negatives and positives.  My question was, “Can I speed?”.  It was preempted by my lack of controlling myself and the situation.  Cops answer: no.

Funny thing is, after the ticket, I actually felt better.  Rebooted, if you will.  While I was waiting for my ticket, I texted my client and informed her of the delay.  She was very understanding. I was only 15 minutes late. Not the end of the world, but now I was rebooted.  Calmer, even. I realized that I was going about everything wrong.  My unwillingness to control myself and my situation had cost me both time and money.  That’s a negative.

So I took a deep breath, pulled away with a fresh ticket in my hand, and calmly drove to my next session, singing along with Robert Plant and enjoying the ride rather than focusing on the destination.  Once arriving, I rebooted again, taking a deep breath, focusing on how lucky I am to have such a wonderful career that I work with dogs all day!  And then proceeded to have a wonderful session with amazing people and three incredible dogs.

Thank you RuPaul.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack & Special Guest: RuPaul
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

The Power of Barking

When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.
- Dalai Lama



Ah…the melodious sound of a dog barking.  It’s always the harbinger of something even more onerous:  the cacophony of barking dog mixed with barking owner:

What are you barking at?!  Fido, enough! I said stop!  Quiet!  Do you want to go to your crate?!  ENOUGH!

 I love when I walk into a client’s house, and the owners tell me about their dog’s barking problem.  They describe how Fido barks at everything and nothing at the same time.  And what is the owner’s response to the barking?

 ”Stop or I’ll say “stop” again!” 

Fido is asking a question when he’s barking.  It’s a very legitimate question in his mind, even if it seems like nonsense in yours.  He doesn’t see a pug walking in front of the house with their owner like you do.  He sees a predator in his front yard who he can’t identify as of yet.  He’s asking you to come over and answer one simple question:  Is this a threat?  Fido barks when he’s in his crate.  Can you come over here and let me out?  All of Fido’s barking has one thing in common:  a question that needs to be answered.

For example, suppose you’ve just fixed yourself a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, with a nice side of potato chips. You’re ready to sit on the couch in front of the tv and zone out for a bit while you enjoy your meal.  Suddenly a predator has set his sights on you.  Fido, smelling the food, sits directly in front of you, staring.  You try to ignore him, but it doesn’t work.  He hovers even closer to you.  You shift away from him, desperately trying to ignore him, but then he starts in with the barking.  Non-stop.  He’s asking….or, rather, demanding, that you give him that sandwich.  So you start yelling at him. Of course it doesn’t work, so you end up either putting him in his crate where he continues his caterwauling, or you eventually give up and give him some of your food.  Congratulations, you’ve now reinforced this behavior. In his mind, barking at you is what is required to get some of your human food.  Or anything else Fido feels he deserves.

Hey, you gonna eat that? Brittany Graham Photography

Hey, you gonna eat that?
Brittany Graham Photography


So let’s start from the beginning.  We all know barking is your dog’s way of getting you to do something, be it give him food or give him an answer.  Usually both.  So instead of coming up with a myriad of ways to handle the situation, let’s just take the simple route:  why not just answer his question?

Dogs are binary creatures, which means every question they ever ask will be a yes or no question:

Is that other dog going to kill us?

Can I have some of your food?

Can we play rope toy right now?

So all you need to do is respond to them using “yes” or “no”.  Kinda like a game of true/false or hot/cold.  Even easier, “yes” is the absence of “no”. (If you have kids you already know this:  But you never said I couldn’t!)  Unless you answer your dog’s question with a “no”, you are telling your dog you accept their current behavior.  So to communicate with your dog, you need to answer the question.  Here’s how to do that, using their language.

Control yourself.  If you’re angry, rushed, hyper, annoyed, whatever, it’s not going to work.  They’re going to take that energy you are giving off and fling it right back at you like monkeys at the zoo.  Take a second to get your composure.  Don’t rush.  The question will be answered when you are ready to answer it.

Controlling yourself has another component, though.  Your body language.  Sit and stand like a letter “T”. No cowering.  No pretzeling.  You need to look confident that you have the answer to this question.  Stand up straight.  Dogs are based on body language, and if you’re giving off a “I’m-not-sure-what-do-you-think-dear” vibe, they’re not going to be willing to accept your answer.

Stand up straight!  Brittany Graham Photography

Stand up straight!
Brittany Graham Photography

Control the situation.  Don’t add more stimulation to the situation!  So your dog is barking, don’t join in!  Noise equals energy (think about the music played at a nightclub vs. a funeral home).  Yelling at your dog only stresses both of you out more.  It doesn’t work.  Be silent.  Don’t add to the energy.  No, not even talking a little bit.  Be silent, and you’ll be amazed at how much energy is diffused.

Answer the question.  To tell a dog “no” simply stand up straight and walk into them, invading their personal space.  Keep your feet like a letter “V” (I don’t want you stepping on their toes!).  Your dog will back off.  Once they’ve stopped barking, take a step back.  They will start up again (odds are this is the first time you’ve ever answered one of their questions, so they aren’t quite prepared to believe the answer at first).  By all means, answer their question again.  And again.  Until they believe you.  

Now here’s the trick.  Remember how I said that it was like a game of hot/cold?  I wasn’t kidding.  In dog trainer lingo, you’re trying to catch a behavior.  In this instance, silence.  So your dog is barking, use the body language.  The moment they stop, remove your strong body language.  Pretty soon they get the idea.

Oh....I see.  She wants me to stop barking! Brittany Graham Photography

Oh….I see. She wants me to stop barking!
Brittany Graham Photography

For a better visual on how to do this, try this little exercise:  you’re going to drop a piece of cheese on the floor, and not let your dog get it.  Your dog’s question is, “Can I have that?”  Your answer is going to be “no”, and you’re going to use the same steps and the same body language as described above:

Control yourself.  Deep breath.  Stand like a letter “T”, not a letter “S”.  Good!

Control the situation.  Is you dog hyper? You’re not ready yet.  Get them seated and staying where they are (you may have to extend your arm and pretend your are drilling a hole right between their eyes with your finger – that’s how you get a dog to stay where they are).  Dog is seated?  Staying?  Great!  But how close to you?  Remember, you are about to add a whole lot of stimulation in the form of that cheese landing on the floor.  If they are right on top of you already, that’s not giving yourself a fighting chance for it.  Think of it like this, a dog eating a bone never lets another dog right next to them.  They back the other dog off, and then continues eating the bone.  Pretend you need a little buffer of personal space.  Got it?  Now you’re ready.

Answer the question.  Drop the cheese.  Odds are your dog tries to dart for the cheese on the floor.  Simply insert your body between your dog and the cheese, backing Fido off your food.  Pretend your dog is a little taller, and you are trying to hit him with your belly button. Your back is to what you’re protecting (the food) your front is towards what you’re saying “no” to (Fido).  Remember, you aren’t backing your dog off into the next county – merely putting some distance between your food on the floor and your dog.

So what does cheese on the floor have to do with your dog barking at the mailman, garbage truck, grilled cheese sandwich?  Everything.  

You’ve now learned how to tell a dog “no” in a way that they understand.  Without anger.  Without yelling.  You’re ready to answer any question your dog throws your way.  You simply use the same body language.

If my Sparta starts barking out the window at “something”, I insert myself between her and the window and back her off.  She may run to the other window and start barking, so I claim that window as well.  After a short time, she turns around, walks away and gives up.  If she starts barking at me to give her part of my sandwich, I merely stand up and back her off of my personal space, answering the question each and every time she asks it.  This is what we refer to as Piloting your dog.  Every time you answer a dog’s question without anger and, well, nobody dies, the more faith they have that you have the answer to the next question, and the next question.  Piloting is a huge piggy bank: whomever has the most money wins.  You can take money out of your dog’s bank by answering questions in a calm, but firm manner.  That money starts to add up and snowball.  Pretty soon, you have a lot of money in your bank.  Now Sparta looks out the window, starts to bark, but then looks at me.  I’m not barking, so she decides that’s the route to go.  She started off as being the dog who gives the orders, the one everyone should follow.  After Piloting her for a bit, and taking all her money out of her Piloting bank, pretty soon she wants to be like me, and do whatever I’m doing.  I’m the cool kid everyone wants to be like (or at least my dogs, anyway).

Sparta - Brittany Graham Photography

Sparta – Brittany Graham Photography

Now, let’s make this even simpler.  Do you really want to have to stand up every time you have to answer a question?  Yeah, neither do I.  So let’s use a substitute for the body language.  After you’ve mastered the body language (read: their language) you’re ready to start teaching them your language.  While you’re walking into them using the body language, you can repeat the same command over and over. When you stop using the body language, stop using the word.  I use the word “off”, but “no” can be used, too.  Just remember, one word for one command.  It’s not no barking, stop jumping, off the couch.  Those are all answered with the same body language, so they all need to be linked with the same word.  Pretty soon you can replace the body language completely with the word.  So now if Sparta starts barking out the window, I simply say “off” and she immediately stops.  However, if she doesn’t, then I am instantly off the couch using my body language.

So think of it like this:  your words are like paper money.  Convenient only.  Paper money is worthless… it merely stands in for something else: Gold.  Gold is your body language.  Gold is accepted everywhere.  It doesn’t lose value. So if your dog won’t accept your words/paper money, go for the body language/gold.

Just remember, your dog is indeed asking you important questions when they are barking.  Make sure you answer them, don’t just remove them from the situation.  The basis of the PAW Method of training is answering your dog’s questions.  The more you answer, the less they start asking, and pretty soon you have a calm, happy, quiet lunch of grilled cheese, with a dog snoring silently at your feet.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio